This piece by Jacinda Bowler at Cosmos:

A modelling study looking at electric vehicles has found that the resources to produce them will be significantly strained in the next few years. The researchers suggest that to stop the worst of the bottleneck will take an overhaul – we need to change the way we think about our cars and cities.

“It seems very likely we’ll have a shortage,’ says Fernando Aguilar Lopez, a renewable energy researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

“The key lies in the demand. The demand needs to decrease to avoid long-term supply problems.”

The researchers used a model called MATerIaL Demand and Availability (MATILDA) to analyse at how lithium and other elements will be available from the extraction phase, all the way through to production, use, and scrapping. They looked at more than 8,000 scenarios in the paper has just been published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling.

Although there’s plenty of lithium, cobalt, nickel and phosphorus in the ground, the problem lies in mining. An older paper from 2022 suggested it can take up to 30 years from the initial exploration to be able to use the elements in electric cars.

“The ‘technology metals’, such as cobalt, lithium, rare earths and platinum group metals, are generally produced in much smaller amounts (hundreds to thousands of tonnes) from a small number of mines worldwide,” reported the older paper.

“We will require a massive and rapid increase in the production of technology metals, essential to the function and performance of electric vehicles (EVs), if we are to meet the targets of governments and the car industry.”

Worse, the researchers for this new paper have suggested that recycling won’t be solution in the near term as there are not enough electric vehicles being scrapped to reuse as a replacement for the bulk of new materials.

while interesting is hardly surprising. Many others (including me) have been saying things along those lines for 40 years. The article goes on to discuss reengineering cities to require less transport. Easier and cheaper than that would be to abandon the centralization, sprawl, and commute model we’ve been following for the last 75 years. It’s going on even as I speak.

For the last two years my employer has been located in London. I never went there, remaining here in the U. S. For the two years prior to that I rarely went into the office. I strongly suspect that work from home AKA remote and/or the “hybrid” model are here to stay. There are also lots of small towns that have practically been vacated as the manufacturing that used to support their economies has vanished overseas. Lots of room there.

None of that is what went through my mind as I read the article. Dovetailing with a post of mine from yesterday, I think we’re going to see a flurry of investment and innovation not just on recycling but also in refining and extraction from seawater, etc. These are among the many reasons that the strategy we’re using for carbon emissions reduction (reducing the production of energy and/or replacing it with less concentrated approaches) is foolhardy. There are all sorts of things that are possible with more power (as Tim Allen used to say).

9 comments… add one
  • TastyBits Link

    From the quoted passage”

    … An older paper from 2022 suggested it can take up to 30 years from the initial exploration to be able to use the elements in electric cars.

    This is bullshit. Today, this might be true, but with economic incentives, the time would quickly drop. I could be wrong, but I suspect petroleum exploration techniques and technology could be quickly adapted.

    The biggest problem to upscaling mining and processing is environmental and safety. It is dirty and dangerous.

    Large scale electric vehicles will never be powered by batteries. Fuel cells will be used, and ammonia and/or natural gas are the likeliest fuels, at least initially. Hydrogen molecules are much smaller than natural gas, and many of the pipeline flanges and valves would leak.

  • bob sykes Link

    If you can do your job from home, someone in New Delhi or Lagos can do it cheaper. You are expendable, surplus.

    Please note the thrust of all this innovation. Less mobility and freedom of movement. Less private space, really small homes. More regulated lives. Less variety in food, clothing, products. No meat. No alcohol. Fewer goods in total.


    From the viewpoint of the environmentalists, the ideal Earth has a few million paleolithic hunter–gatherers. No industry. No agriculture. No science or engineering. No medicine (other than witch doctors). No literacy.

    If you doubt that, go read Paul Erhlich’s and his wife’s and John Holdren’s book Ecoscience. Buried in the middle is a recommendation of involuntary, imposed birth control for everyone delivered by the food and water supply.

    As to EV’s, China is poised to capture the whole market. China already makes twice as many cars as we do, has twice the domestic market as we do, and as of this year is the largest car exporter, replacing Japan.

    They are also gobbling up lithium mines everywhere and have a near monopoly on rare earths.

    One Chinese car maker is offering a small EV for under $12,000, one-third the price of the cheapest Tesla.

    And while the US uses 5G for consumer toys, China is combining 5G and AI to further optimize their heavily automated factories. They already have one–third of the whole world’s manufacturing capacity. Will they get to 50%?

    The future lies with Russia-China and Eurasia. The Global South sees that, and is joining up with the Russia-China pole. BRICS already has a combined GDP larger than the G7’s.

  • Andy Link

    We just traded in our 3 row SUV, which we don’t need anymore, for a smaller vehicle. We strongly preferred a hybrid SUV or sedan and considered an EV (this vehicle will be used for commuting 95% of the time), but none are available except a handful of models that wouldn’t work for us. One at the top of our list was either a Camry or Corolla hybrid. The dealer had none and had a waiting list. We might get one in a year and would have no choice on colors or options. The only available EV’s in our price range were rear-wheel drive Tesla model 3’s. Everything else was high end in terms of price, or not available.

    So we got a Subaru Outback, which fits our needs very well and gets about 30% better mileage than our previous SUV, although not nearly as much as we hoped with a hybrid.

    Anyway, I guess the point in detailing this is that supply is constrained, and demand is high.

  • Anyway, I guess the point in detailing this is that supply is constrained, and demand is high.

    Despite the surge in EV and hybrid purchases since 2022, the demand still isn’t that high. What are total EV and hybrid sales? About 10% of auto sales? What you’re really seeing is constraints on the supply of batteries. I’ve been pointing that out for more than a decade.

  • steve Link

    Demand is ahead of supply for EVs as Andy has noticed. The improvements in batteries and increased range have abetted that demand. China seems to be meeting its demands pretty easily. I think if the demand is there the mining will happen pretty quickly so it’s really the charging issue that will limit EVs for quite a while. You live in a city without a garage they arent very practical. However, they should have a good market for buses and shorter haul trucks that ha ve predictable routes each day. Cost more upfront but save on fuel and maintenance.

    I wonder why we are so resistant to small commuter cars? We might not be able to build a small EV for $12k but I suspect we could do it well below $20k. Even our small cars end up larger than the small cars in the rest of the world. Seems like a cost effective option for many families would be one large ICE car and a second small, as in 2 person size with small trunk or back seat so you could carry some groceries, would work very well.


  • TastyBits Link

    @bob sykes
    I tell people, “if you are not seen, you are not needed.”

    I agree with most of your comment, but are Chinese EV busses lighter than the US version or are their roads stronger? (cf. one of your previous comments.)

    I will quote myself: “Large scale electric vehicles will never be powered by batteries.”

    There is no technology that can make a lithium-ion battery as energy dense as a tank of gas, diesel, or LP gas, period. It might be possible for other metals, but I doubt it. (@bob sykes has weighed-in on the chemistry.) It should work for airplanes and ships, as well.

    For buses, an overhead or underground system would be even better, though unsightly. For short haul deliveries, the limiting factor would not be travel distance, it would be weight. Additional battery weight means less packages can be loaded.

    Magnetic induction delivered through the roadway might work, but it would mean tearing up all the roads.

    I have not kept up with fuel cell developments, but I suspect the technological innovations are far more extensive and significant than for batteries.

    While science has become politicized, physics has not. So, a political pundit can cite as many other political pundits as they like, but they cannot alter simple physics. (Apparently, @bob sykes believes that the Chinese can. Maybe, you two should combine forces.)

    The car you propose already exists. It is called a golf cart. It may work in Mar-a-Lago, but I would not recommend it anywhere else.

  • steve Link

    Number one son, the physics/math major is back now. He cant figure out why anyone would think that. We have a bit more to go with current Li batteries before we max out and are early on with Aluminum. I am sure you are aware of the work going to replace graphite in the anode and just two months ago engineers at Purdue announced a significant advance working towards solid state batteries.


  • steve Link
  • Andy Link


    We don’t know what demand would be if supply wasn’t constrained. And, we very likely would have bought an EV or hybrid if we could have found one. Instead we got an ICE that we will probably keep for a decade.

    I didn’t mention it, but my comment was also about the silliness of subsidies. Demand would still probably exceed supply without the direct subsidies.

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